This morning, OPSEU/SEFPO called on the Ford government to take immediate steps to fix the health care staffing crisis at a press conference held by the Ontario Health Coalition. A statement was released with a list of demands signed on by many unions and advocacy groups including OPSEU/SEFPO.
Read: Emergency Measures Needed to Address the Health Care Staffing Crisis
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Jill McIllwraith, Chair of OPSEU/SEFPO’s Health Care Divisional Council, told the media about how drastic understaffing is affecting our members in hospitals, long-term care and home care.
“Every hospital position is incredibly-short staffed, including RPNs, PSWs, clerical staff, food services, environmental services – all of them,” said McIllwraith, who works in a hospital herself as an RPN. “Laboratory Technologists have had to do all the COVID-19 testing on top of their regular work with the same number of staff. Pharmacy technicians are leaving hospitals to work in higher-paying vaccine clinics. Hospital professionals are burning out and retiring and not being replaced as they leave.”
“People are leaving hospital work because nobody feels safe in a hospital right now,” continued McIllwraith. “We’re risking our lives. We know when we go to work, we’re running into people with COVID-19. We’re constantly being called in for overtime and we can’t take vacation. And we can’t even negotiate higher wages because of Bill 124.”
Home care is dominated by private, for-profit corporations, and that has resulted in low wages and benefits and lack of full-time work. This has always caused staff retention issues, but the pandemic has made it even worse. “Hospitals are pushing patients out of hospitals and into their homes more quickly to limit exposure to COVID-19,” explained McIllwraith. “As a result, community nurses and PSWs are dealing with more complex cases.”
The media present at the event were told some particularly heartbreaking stories by workers, advocates and family members of residents in long-term care, about residents who have not been getting some of their most basic care needs met over the last few weeks due to a collapse in long-term care home staffing.
The reasons for that collapse are obvious: long-term care workers are burning out and quitting or going on sick leave because they have to care for way too many residents with too few staff. They’re getting sick with COVID-19. And they’re not getting paid enough.
The immediate course of action is also obvious, according to McIllwraith. “Mr. Ford is going to have to open his purse strings or the “health care heroes” will keep handing in their capes. We need to repeal Bill 124 and immediately boost the wages of all health care workers.”
McIllwraith also emphasized OPSEU/SEFPO’s call to get profit out of long-term care and home care. “For-profit owners will always understaff and cut corners on care when there is a profit motive to do so,” she said. “Stop giving contracts to for-profit home care companies. Stop selling public land to private developers to build long-term care homes. Stop issuing operating licenses to private, for-profit long-term care homes. Long-term care and home care should be fully public.”